ALBANY — As its new head coach, the top task for Jamion Christian is to rebuild the Siena College men’s basketball program.
For most, that would mean to bring the Saints to the heights they reached with former head coach Fran McCaffery, back when Siena made three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and heavily flirted once with a Sweet 16 trip.
His message Wednesday during a press conference at Times Union Center to introduce him as the 17th head coach in program history was unmistakable.
In short: Reaching those heights is a step on the way to the goals he has in mind for the Saints.
“Let’s be excited,” Christian said, “because we’re going to turn this page in Siena basketball and we’re going to achieve our own set of history — and we’re going to set a new standard that has not seen before.”
Siena, coming off an 8-24 season, is confident Christian is the right person to lead its flagship athletic program. Christian, 36, takes the reins of the Siena program with a five-year contract after six seasons coaching at his alma mater Mount St. Mary’s, and was the first candidate Siena formally met with during its coaching search to replace Jimmy Patsos. Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said the contract was finalized Wednesday morning.
“Jamion was the first person we met with and, obviously, he’s here today,” D’Argenio said, “so he made a lasting impression in that first meeting.”
Christian succeeds Patsos, who submitted his resignation April 13 amid an ongoing investigation into the men’s basketball program. In his five seasons at Siena, Patsos went 77-92. Patsos’ tenure followed three seasons with Mitch Buonaguro at the program’s helm (35-59).
Called up @TexasMBB head coach Shaka Smart about new @SienaSaints head coach @JamionChristian.
And Smart gushed … and gushed … and gushed about his former assistant and the newest @MAACSports coach.
Via @dgazette: https://t.co/jFkNVq7j1X pic.twitter.com/nTsFAUr8z7
— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) May 2, 2018
Since McCaffery left Siena for Iowa after guiding the Saints to three consecutive NCAA tournaments, Siena has only posted two winning seasons and appeared in one MAAC tournament championship game. Three times in those eight post-McCaffery seasons, Siena has lost at least 20 games. Meanwhile, average attendance for the Saints’ home games at Times Union Center has decreased.
Christian? He comes to Siena after six seasons leading a Mount St. Mary’s program he inherited following it struggling through back-to-back 21-loss seasons. In those six seasons, Christian twice led teams to the NCAA tournament and amassed a 101-95 record. His teams never finished worse than fifth in the Northeast Conference.
On Christian’s coaching staff this past season at Mount St. Mary’s was Harley Fuller, who played high school basketball at Broadalbin-Perth and Gloversville. Fuller, who played professionally in Argentina and Germany, coached the Mayfield varsity boys’ basketball team for two seasons before heading to Mount St. Mary’s as Christian’s director of scouting and analytics.
Christian said he still is sorting out who will make up his coaching staff at Siena.
Prior to landing his first college head coaching gig at his alma mater, Christian worked as an assistant for a season under Shaka Smart at Virginia Commonwealth. Before that, he spent three seasons as an assistant coach at William & Mary, a director of basketball operations for two seasons at Bucknell and an assistant for two seasons at Emory & Henry.
Here is Jamion Christian on what “Mayhem” is pic.twitter.com/DgXvlUSKyi
— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) May 2, 2018
Christian brings with him a style of basketball that is more frenetic than it is fast-paced. His Mount St. Mary’s teams used full-court pressure to cause turnovers, and they shot lots of 3-pointers, but they didn’t necessarily play up-tempo basketball. Last season, Christian’s squad ranked No. 325 in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com.
Like his predecessor, a recruiting focus for Christian is the “DMV” area of Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia. At Siena, Christian will get a late start recruiting new players for the 2018-19 season; the spring signing period started April 11, two days before Patsos’ resignation, and concludes May 16.
“I’m not concerned about playing catch-up at all,” Christian said.
At least three Siena players — freshmen Jordan Horn, Prince Oduro and Roman Penn — have already received their releases and could transfer. It’s been expected redshirt junior Kadeem Smithen would leave the program — he is set to graduate — but he could return, and Christian and D’Argenio each said a return to the program by junior Nico Clareth is possible for the 2018-19 season.
“Everybody,” D’Argenio said, “is welcome back.”
STORY: Door open to @SienaMBB return for Nico Clareth https://t.co/UcGIDd9cky pic.twitter.com/FffUwzlYCe
— Daily Gazette Sports (@dgazettesports) May 2, 2018
What Christian can control right away is the attitude and approach of his new program — and changing the culture of the Saints’ program is a must.
“We’re going to get to work on that right away,” Christian said.
Christian spoke of making multiple NCAA tournaments and quickly turning the Saints back into a MAAC contender. He said he appreciated messages he received Wednesday from former Saints and the many positive interactions he had with well-wishers after news broke he would take the Siena job.
Christian will stay in the Capital Region Thursday before heading back to Maryland. He weds his fiancee Allie Vadas Saturday, but plans to be back in Loudonville for a full week of work before the couple heads on its honeymoon the following week.
After that? Christian said he will get right back to work rebuilding the Saints.
“My pledge to you,” Christian said, “is that we’re going to have the most enthusiasm. I’m going to lead our program with the most enthusiasm of any head coach you’ve ever seen.”
Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.
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